Just when you thought that our national fixation with the Confederate battle flag could not sink any deeper into the mire of goofiness it does just that. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is asking for an apology from George Allen for his recent comments about the flag in the wake of his racial comments. Since when did the SCV have a monopoly on the meaning of this symbol? More recently, the mayor of Franklin, Tennessee has decided not to allow the Stars and Bars to fly in an upcoming reenactment. If I am not mistaken isn’t the mayor keeping these people honest? I thought Confederate armies carried the flag with the blue field and white circle in the center.
In the end I find the whole thing to be worthy of nothing more than a big hearty laugh. It is, however, an opportune time to introduce some sanity into these "debates." First, if you haven’t read it already, pick up John Coski’s recent study of the flag. Here is a news article on LSU historian Gaines Foster’s recent presentation on the flag.
Foster said there are three ways to view any flag: through history, through memory and in the present. He described history as the actual historical context of a flag, whereas memory is a contemporary, idealized representation of what the flag stands for. "The South seceded to preserve slavery," he said, placing the flag in a historical context inseparable from slavery. He said many defenders of the flag argue that it stands for Southern heritage, values and culture. He described this as memory and said it is different from what the flag originally represented. Foster said flags are particularly potent historical symbols, which may be a reason the Confederate flag is still so hotly debated.
Ahh….now that feels better doesn’t it? Foster’s own Ghosts of the Confederacy
Baptized in Blood, which was published in 1983 is one of the best of this most recent round of memory studies and a great place to start in tracing the history of our collective imagination surrounding the Civil War.